Senior Spotlight: EHT's Moreno found his confidence, achieved goals in final wrestling seasonBy NICK KOSKO
Wrestling is a grind. No one can walk into the Egg Harbor Township wrestling room and expect it to be a piece of cake. If a student-athlete wants to compete with one of the top teams in South Jersey, they have to earn their spot.
Wrestling at any school can be enjoyable if an athlete is willing to put the work in. It takes blood, sweat and tears to get the most of out of a high school wrestling career.
Matt Moreno knew what it took to get the most out of his career, and he capped off four years of varsity wrestling on top individually and aided a stacked Eagles lineup to a Cape-Atlantic League championship and runner-up status in the South Jersey Group 4 tournament.
The 170-pounder balanced his time on the mat with soccer in the fall, but it was within the brick walls of the Eagles’ wrestling room where Moreno shined and got the most out of his athletic abilities. He saved his best for last.
“Of all four years, I would definitely say my senior season was most memorable,” Moreno said. “From Day One — and anyone that has wrestled would know that it’s tough — but it was worth the pain and hard work.”
Sometimes pain is limited to the bumps and bruises suffered during practice and the countless hours put in perfecting a craft. In Moreno’s case, it was more than a few injuries that nearly prevented him from achieving his goals on the mat. Moreno is diabetic, and with that comes extreme measures in watching what he eats and the amount of stress his body can take. Since wrestling involves cutting weight or gaining weight, diabetes makes it even harder to manage weight or even cut those last two pounds before a match.
Early in his career, Moreno struggled with balancing his diabetes and wrestling. His resilience is what pushed him forward to being able to manage it.
“It’s tough to manage weight and keep my blood sugar stable,” Moreno said. “I didn’t really let it become a problem. I just overcame it and got better at managing it.”
With his weight under control and one last season to achieve greatness, Moreno certainly put on a show as a senior. He finished with a 20-7 record, won his first district title and helped the Eagles reign over the CAL. Veteran head coach Mike Caiazza knew about the struggles but never lost hope and was amazed at Moreno’s progress throughout his career.
“His confidence was always his downfall in the beginning,” Caiazza said. “He never thought he was as good as he was. But what he was able to do by managing his diabetes and the strenuous workouts, he ended up writing a pretty amazing story his senior year. I always knew he had the talent because he was one of the most talented kids who have come into our room. Kids like him are what have kept me around so long.”
The CAL title came down to EHT and St. Augustine Prep, and the Eagles were able to edge the Hermits out for their first conference title since 2012. Describing Moreno as ecstatic would be putting it lightly.
“That night was something special,” Moreno said. “I remember being in the wrestling room moments before the match started and I’ve never seen everyone so intense. It was a great night for the team. Even making the group finals was another great achievement even though we didn’t get the result we wanted. We were proud to be there because no one expected us to go that far.”
Moreno may have emerged as a great talent in South Jersey, but even he had to tone down the attention he received. Looking back on his career as a whole, Moreno said he did have a few regrets.
“I wish I gave more to the sport than I had to offer,” Moreno said. “On numerous occasions I’ve had people tell me I’m talented and that I have a chance to be great but it took me until senior year to realize I had potential. It took me so long to know that this was my sport and I lacked confidence for so many years until senior season.”
All was not lost. Moreno took his newfound confidence and did, in fact, turn it into greatness.
Teammate Dan Wollermann, also a practice partner, said Moreno never gave up and always found new ways to push himself to becoming a better wrestler, including heated battles with Wollermann.
“We would always be ready to beat each other up and sometimes even get mad and frustrated with each other,” Wollermann said. “But after practice or after a drill we would be fine and joking with one another. For Matt and I, that basically was what it was because sometimes we would push each other a little too far, but we both knew we would laugh about it once practice was over. He has not only helped me and a bunch of other guys get better, but he helped himself by pushing for the extra mile.”
In the District 30 tournament, Moreno was seeded third at 170 pounds, which included former district champion Mike Yorio of Lower Cape May Regional. The old Moreno might have just placed in the top three or missed the region tournament entirely. The new version didn’t take no for an answer. After pinning his way to the finals, Moreno had a showdown with Yorio. Obviously, the defending champion was the favorite, but that did not matter to Moreno.
With seconds remaining, Moreno trailed by one but managed to secure Yorio’s legs and finish a takedown near the boundary. He held on for a victory and became a district champion for the first time.
“When he won the district finals at the buzzer, the whole team was going crazy,” Wollermann said. “He wanted to get his name up on the board. Caiazza always said ‘you get out what you put in’ and Matt took that to heart.”
“Once it started to sink in that I was in the finals, I went and found a quiet place to think and calm myself,” Moreno said. “I knew it was going to be a battle, but regardless of what he’s already done, I was going to give him a fight, and I ended up on top.”
Caiazza admitted a district title was never something that crossed his mind or Moreno’s in the past, but the coach said he always had a feeling if enough work was put in, Moreno could come out on top.
“This is what coaching is all about,” Caiazza said. “He came to me in the beginning of the year and told me he was not going to give up this season. How he overcame everything was amazing to me and because he was able to achieve something no one gave him a shot at. He can take that into the real world and achieve anything he sets his mind to.”
As for the future, Moreno can look back and know he gave it his all because his name will forever be engraved on EHT’s wrestling room walls. While Moreno will be attending Atlantic Cape Community College to start his post-graduate career, he did receive an offer to wrestle at Camden County College but decided to put it on hold, for now.
There are still questions as to what the career path will look like for Moreno, but there is one dream that still lingers. Yes, it does involve wrestling, but in a different capacity.
“I plan on pursuing a career in pro wrestling, believe it or not,” Moreno said. “I’ve always been into it as a kid and I’m hoping I can it make it far.”
Even Caiazza would not be surprised at a totally different career.
“He could come back to me in 10 years and be the governor of New Jersey and I would not be surprised,” Caiazza said.
Either way, Moreno will keep up the pursuit.
“I’d say give me a few years and I’ll be in the WWE,” Moreno said. “As far as wrestling, I’m not done yet.”
Follow Nick Kosko on Twitter @nickkosko59